Testarossa is a crime novel set here in Los Angeles. It is many things: it’s a crime novel, it’s a police procedural, it’s a character study and it’s a love story. I wrote what I wanted to see in the books I love to read. I love the cop/detective story, so I wrote that. I love the character studies—getting deep into their lives, getting to know them—so I wrote that. I love the stuff detectives do to get to the bottom of a crime and catch the bad guy, so I wrote that. And, I am quite certain that cops fall in love—all the time—yet you rarely see that side in a crime novel, because it is believed that you must focus on the crime, or it isn’t a crime novel. Well, I disagree, so I wrote a nice love story as well.
TESTAROSSA centers around the death of a young college student, whom the detectives find after his arm rolls up on a beach in Santa Monica. Their investigation takes them into a world of collegiate sports and the drugs that keep athletes competitive. But within this crime, we also learn about Detective John Testarossa, who, to me, is one of the most compelling characters I have seen in a long time. His relationships, his work ethic, his background—what makes him the man he is today—is compelling reading, and very real, in my opinion.
Tell us something about yourself.
I am a native of Los Angeles, born and raised. I began a career in the business world, then had children, so I decided to stay home and be with them. Writing, for me, started in my 40s, six or seven years ago. It just sort of happened—like someone waking up one day and realizing they could sing (a personal fantasy of mine—but I digress.) I began writing fan fiction for a TV show I’d become disenchanted with. For those unfamiliar, fan fiction is the writing of stories where the characters—and usually the setting—have already been created by someone else. Fan fiction can be written based on TV shows, books, movies, comics, Anime…anything where the characters and basic idea of the story have already been created, with the understanding by everyone that rights to those characters and that show/book/movie/comic belong to someone else. I started writing what I’d like to see happen, with the plot, the characters, etc. There are a lot of fan fiction writers out there, and many places where the work can be posted online. Out of that came the first pages of TESTAROSSA.
What inspired you to write this book?
My love of a good police drama, my love of character, and how through a medium like writing, the sky’s the limit. I mean, people are amazing creatures, and there is so much that is interesting about everyone. How can you not take that and write about it? The other inspiration, the reason I wrote the crime specifically about steroids, was because of my son, Blaise. Around the time that Mark McGwire refused to answer questions about his own steroid use, Blaise was fortunate to participate in a program called Young Storytellers through his school. With the help of a mentor, my then-10-year-old wrote a screenplay about steroid use in the world of professional sports. I never realized how profoundly McGwire’s actions affected my son until I sat in a classroom and watched professional actors act out his screenplay. It was a story about mistakes and redemption, very mature subject matter for a ten-year-old. I remembered the poster he ripped down off his wall after McGwire retired amid accusations. I remembered seeing the Hallmark Christmas ornament of the buffed-up Cardinal mid-swing, broken and in the trash. And as athlete after athlete appeared on the news denying their drug use, I saw him grow more disappointed. Now, at sixteen, he is a phenomenal baseball player, would love to play in college, then play in the pros, and already college coaches are telling him he has to ‘get bigger’. It’s never over; this will always be an issue. Is it sexy news? No. Does it make for a dazzling plot-line in a crime novel? To some, maybe—but I needed to tell this story, and I have Blaise to thank. Athletes, if you think the kids aren’t watching, think again.
How did you publish this book?
My wonderful agent, Angela Rinaldi, shopped this book to many different publishers and tried to find a place for it in Mystery/Suspense, Romance/Suspense and finally Crime. No one was interested. It’s a weird time in publishing, and maybe if we’d submitted the book five years ago it would be a different story.
One morning I’m having coffee with Angela, and she says, “I have someone I’d like to show the book to. He’s a client of mine, also a writer, and he’s had trouble selling his book so he opened his own publishing house. I think he’s taking new authors, but I’d like him to read your book because he’s a cop.” I thought, ‘How wonderful! A cop is going to read my book. What valuable feedback!’ Well, she sent it to Ken Lewis, who wrote a wonderful book of his own, Little Blue Whales. While he was reading mine, I was reading his. He loved it, and he gave me some great feedback on some issues he saw, edited the manuscript and sent it back. When Angela decided she’d like to concentrate more on selling the sequel to Testarossa, I asked her if she would mind if I sent it back to Ken for consideration. He said yes immediately. Krill Press is on the tiny side of small, but Ken is doing wonderful work, taking on authors who are being overlooked by the big houses, and giving them legitimacy. He keeps encouraging me to seek a bigger and better publisher, and I keep threatening to make him famous with Testarossa. The industry needs more souls like Ken.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I had no idea I wanted to be a writer until I started writing. I wanted to be a doctor (laughs). Once I started, I liked the idea of saying what I wanted to say, and I tried to say it better than other writers. There’s nothing like coming across a sentence in a book that just blows your doors off, and I love it when a sentence stops me cold and I say, ‘Damn, I wish I’d written that!’ When I realized I needed some work, I started studying. I was lucky to find someone here in Los Angeles who is not only a gifted actor, poet and writer himself, but an inspired teacher. I’m a better writer today because of Jack Grapes.
What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?
Remembering to finish up with the character you introduced in Chapter Two before you type The End (laughs). My biggest hurdle is the crime itself. Because I’m not a cop, nor do I have any direct knowledge of law enforcement, I have to work at that part. I want to get the facts right, and I don’t just want to take the easy way out. I want to stun the reader, make him cry, make her laugh, cause the little men to run around their stomachs over something one of the characters said, or rekindle that fire (smiles). I can write the love. That’s easy. It’s the start of the crime (why), the middle of the crime (who) and the end of the crime (how do we catch him) that is the hardest for me.
How do you do research for your books?
The Internet is a great tool. The information is endless. I always try to back up what I learn with some real-life wisdom, but the Internet is where I begin. While I didn’t speak directly to anyone in law enforcement, I managed to fact check with people in-the-know. Not speaking with anyone on the job was my fault entirely. When you’re new at this and blindly moving along, the last thing you want to do is take up a cop’s time with blithering questions. Of course, now I’m being told that cops are usually ready and willing to talk about their lives to anyone who will listen. I’ll take advantage this time around.
I managed to pester Craig Harvey in the LA County Coroner’s office, and he was wonderfully helpful and patient. I’m gearing up for a visit down there some day. What I have learned is that people are willing to help out any way they can. All you have to do is ask. That was a nice learning moment for me.
Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?
Sure. I learned that using a disease like Avascular Necrosis is a great way to get an arm to fall off a decomposing body, to be found later rolling up on the shores of Santa Monica Bay. I learned about ‘cycling’ and ‘stacking’ when using steroids, and how that can affect the body in different ways. I learned about the different stages of decomposition, and how that can be accelerated or slowed down depending on where the body is found. That is the best part about writing, to me. I learn so much, and what I learn allows me to make it up, effectively and with confidence. After all, I don’t write ‘true crime’.
What are you reading now?
I am reading ‘Los Angeles Noir’, part of Akashic Books city-themed noir series. I love well-written short stories, and these all take place in different parts of the city I love. It’s really well-done and the writing is superb.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
I love crime novels, of course. My favorite author in this genre is Joseph Wambaugh, hands down. I love how he weaves his tales through all of these interesting, sad, funny, eclectic characters. I also discovered Steven Bochco recently. He’s a wonderful writer. I love Robert Crais and I’m getting to know Lee Child and Michael Connelly.
I also love a great literary novel, and no one comes close to Pat Conroy. Everything he writes is so vivid and filled with flavor. I just savor his books. I love Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, another author who wrote in the first person of the opposite gender. I just finished Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Brilliant.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I am currently working on the sequel to Testarossa. John, Alex and Karen are back, and this time John and Alex chase down a serial killer. I’m happy with this book. It’s tighter, the writing is better, I’m digging deeper into who John Testarossa is, and I’m digging into some of the other characters as well. Writing about a serial killer is hard, and everyone does it, so I’m trying to do it better.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Write well. Learn to be a good writer. Be a storyteller, not a teller of stories. Read. Pay attention to how the words and sentences make you feel. Journal every day and get to your deep voice. It will raise the level of your writing. Also, don’t publish just because you can. The market is flooded with self-published books that were not ready to be published. Invest in a good editor and listen to what he or she tells you. It will be the best $1,000 or so you’ll ever spend. If your writing is good, the book will have promise. If the book has promise, you will get an agent. If you have an agent, a publisher will look. Self-publish as a last resort. Look to the smaller houses if the big ones turn you down.
What are you doing to promote your latest book?
I’m a big proponent of social networking. Facebook and Twitter can be a big asset in promoting your work, if used correctly. I also like give-aways. I did a book signing recently here at a small local bookstore. I made up posters, flyers, tote bags and magnets and gave away a Testarossa tote bag to the first 20 buyers. The store sold out of all the books they bought, and luckily I had extra books in the car. Again, it was the best $500 I’ve ever spent. I also hired a professional to do my web site and I’ve recently hired a publicity firm, because I am a mother first. I cannot devote nearly the time it takes to promote myself properly.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
The book is available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle, as well as through Barnes & Noble online and at Village Books in Pacific Palisades, CA www.palivillagebooks.com
My website is www.testarossabook.com
My publicist is Dina Barsky
Smith Publicity, Inc.
(856) 489-8654 x319